Building a better future in South Africa

Posted by Eimear Murphy on 14 Mar 11

Thank you to Kerri L Tiernan from the USA who took part in our Building Blitz 2010 for sending us this wonderful story from last years blitz.

Building a better future in South Africa
Two employees give residents of a shantytown a better place to call home.

Volunteer with Township ChildYou likely have seen sprawling settlements of makeshift shacks, known as shantytowns, on TV or in movies set in developing nations. Denver Assistant Controller Trish Tesar and Vehicle Acquisition Manager Kerri Tiernan recently experienced the impoverished living conditions firsthand.

During a volunteer trip to replace shacks in a housing settlement outside of Cape Town, South Africa, with brick-and-mortar homes, Vehicle Acquisition M anager Kerri Tiernan had the chance to meet some of thechildren who would benefit from her hard work.

The pair were among 750 people who volunteered for a week with Niall Mellon Irish Township Trust, an Ireland-based charity, to replace shacks in a housing settlement outside of Cape Town, South Africa, with brick-and-mortar homes.

Answering the call to help "Two years ago, Trish told me she was interested in doing a volunteer
trip," says Kerri. "I had read about an Irish nonprofit organization that builds homes in poverty-stricken townships of South Africa. After researching it more, we both were set on going."

While Kerri had done similar projects in the past, volunteering in other parts of Africa, Trish had never before taken part in any kind of overseas humanitarian effort. A big part of the preparation for both
involved fundraising. Each had to contribute $6,000 to cover travel, food, housing expenses and building supplies.

Shacks in the townshipMost of the existing structures in the housing settlement where Assistant Controller Trish Tesar and Kerri volunteered housed eight to 12 people. Often they did not have running water or electricity.
"We raised a portion of the money through United Way donations that Trish and I designated to the organization. Enterprise matched our donation 50 cents to the dollar," says Kerri. "We also held a fundraiser at a local pub, and several friends, co-workers and Corporate employees sponsored us. And the Enterprise Holdings Foundation donated $1,000."

The mission
The Niall Mellon Irish Township Trust has operated a year-round house-building program in South Africa since 2002, but every November it holds a weeklong building blitz. Kerri and Trish participated as part of the organization's first U.S. team for this event, and the group built 140 homes for 800 people in the township of Wallacedene.

Niall Mellon Township Trust VolunteersAssistant Controller Trish Tesar, Kathy McGee, Heidi Weidemueller and Vehicle Acquisition Manager Kerri Tiernan were part of a team of 750 volunteers who built 140 homes for 800 people in the township of Wallacedene, South Africa, over the course of a week.

"Teams of 70 were assigned to build 14 homes in seven days," says Kerri. "Each team had a foreman and professionally trained plumbers, electricians and roofers. The rest of the team members, like me and Trish, basically did whatever was needed. We painted, helped roof, stacked cement bricks, and built walls and windows."

All homes the teams constructed followed the same blueprint: two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room and a kitchen area. The houses also had electricity and running water. Although relatively basic, they represented a vast improvement compared with the township's typical housing - one-room, 9- by-9-foot shacks.

"Going inside one of the shacks was one of the most eye-opening experiences," says Trish. "The room was about the size of our offices at work. It had holes in the roof and its frame consisted of metal slabs
bolted together. An 18-year-old girl who lived there showed us where she slept - on a twin mattress with her two younger siblings. The rest of her family - her parents, grandparents and aunts - slept on a larger bed. It was unbelievable."

Beneficiary Hand Over Building Blitz 2010Once the volunteer crews finished construction, they held a ceremony to present a family with a key to its new home. Kerri gave a speech at the event and made the key presentation.

Trish and Kerri learned most shacks in the township house eight to 12 people. Often they do not have running water or electricity, and thefamilies in several shacks typically have to share one portable toilet.
Some of the residents have spent 15 to 20 years on a waiting list for a new home.

"Trish and I were outside painting one day, and I asked her to stop for a second and listen to the construction noise," says Kerri. "Usually when you hear that kind of noise in your neighborhood at home, you get annoyed. In South Africa, it was the most beautiful sound ever. It really captured all the progress our group had made."

Giving the gift of shelter
To cap off an intense but gratifying week, the team held a ceremony to present a family with a key to its new home. Kerri had the honor of giving a speech at the event and made the key presentation. The daughter of South African President Jacob Zuma, Nozibusiso, also spoke at the ceremony.

"When the family opened the door of the house, they all started singing and dancing," says Kerri. "It felt really good knowing they would now have a nice place to call home."

Both Kerri and Trish felt blown away by the whole experience and plan to participate in next year's building blitz.

"I always have liked volunteering during my time off work," says Kerri. "It is pretty incredible to have the support of our company and managers to take time off to do that halfway around the world."

Written by: Lauren Scheidemantel